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"I wrote a children's book -- now what?"

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Note: This is a revision of a post originally written in 2015, and although it links to some threads that are even older, the advice still holds. Some specific companies named might no longer be in operation. Occasionally, you may find links within these links that are broken, but as of the date this was posted, the links in this post are live. However, some links go to boards that are visible only to registered members of the Blueboard or to SCBWI members.

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Hi! I’ve just written a children’s book! What do I do now?

First, congratulations! Good for you for having the passion and drive to create...and create something for the most important people on earth—kids.

Now that you’ve written it, what should you do with it?

If you just want to be able to share it with family and friends, there are services that will print your book for you—perfect for sharing it with a small circle. But if you want to seek out a larger audience, it gets a lot more complicated.

Before you start, understand that being a children's book author or illustrator is not going to make you rich and famous overnight...or probably ever. This thread might prove illuminating:
6-figure deals for debut novelists
 https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=75813.0


Publishing is an industry, just like fashion or insurance or medicine. It’s not something you do on a whim, or for the heck of it. As with any other career or industry, there’s a lot to learn before you can be a participant, even on a small basis. You wouldn’t, say, open a clothing store in your town before you’d thoroughly researched everything about it: the potential clientele, earnings projections, what fashions sell best in your area, store locations...on and on. The same is true for publishing. Here’s a link you might find helpful:
Starting out https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=13763.0
SCBWI members may find this link helpful:
Finding a Mentor https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=75233.0

The first step is to make sure you know what kind of book you’ve written. Children’s publishing can be broadly divided into a few main age groups: picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, and young adult books. Each has its own definition and expectations. Here are a few links to help you figure out what you’ve written:

Picture Books:
Rising above the slush https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=20068.0
What makes a good picture book? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=27480.0
Myths and misconceptions about picture books https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=65586.0

Chapter books:
The difference between MG and chapter books https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=14753.0
Easy reader or early chapter book? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=44342.0
Word count for chapter books https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=74378.0

Middle grade:
Tweens and MG books https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=60698.0
So it's MG? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=65598.0
Middle grade vs middle school https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=74314.0

YA:
Defining YA https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=52216.0
YA? What ages? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=46387.0
Simplifying for young adults? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=45756.0

The next step is to make sure your book is of publishable quality. Most authors and illustrators of published books spend years learning their craft. They take classes, go to conferences, read craft books, join critique groups or find critique partners to exchange manuscripts with. This is true even of those who want to self-publish. See:
Which do I need first, a critique group or an editor? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=73217.0
Could someone explain beta readers? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=54688.0
Favorite writing books https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=73158.0

The Blueboard has a wealth of information about writing, illustrating, and publishing books for kids. Perhaps the best thing you can do if you’re serious about writing or illustrating for children is take time to just wander around and read different topics that catch your eye, or use the search engine to find information on specific topics. Here are a few pointers on using search:
The search engine is your best friend https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=17010.0
How to use the advanced search function https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=84410.msg1059156#msg1059156

Okay, got it—making my book the best it can be comes first. But what’s next after that? How do I get my book out into bookstores, libraries, and schools?

For now, the best way to have your book reach the largest possible audience is to try to find a commercial publisher. Commercial publishers—companies like HarperCollins and Scholastic—pay authors and illustrators for the right to publish their books. They will:

- Do further editing to make a story as good and as salable as possible (don’t forget, they’re in business to earn money); this includes content editing, copy/line editing, and proofreading.
- Typeset and format the pages
- Create a cover (and hire an illustrator if it's a picture book)
- Print the book
- Prepare an ebook version if electronic rights are part of the contract
- Send advance copies to professional review journals, select bloggers, and other "pre-buzz" generators
- Use their sales force to get your book into the hands of distributors and ultimately, your hometown bookstore

It’s very, very hard to sell a book to a commercial publisher—they only take what they think is the best of the best. A few commercial publishers, especially smaller ones, will consider direct submissions from authors and illustrators. Here is a helpful link:
Researching and querying editors https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=86200

But most commercial publishers take submissions only through literary agents. A literary agent is a professional who not only sells books to publishers via their carefully fostered connections with editors (it’s their job to know which editors are looking for what kinds of books) but helps clients with all aspects of their writing or illustrating careers. Not every agent represents every kind of book, just as not every publisher publishes every kind of book. You will need to research which agents represent which kinds of books and what their individual interests are. Once you’ve done that (most of which can be done online), then you craft a query letter, which briefly describes your work.

This is not a speedy process. It takes time first to do your research so that you can best target your submissions...and then it takes time for agents to read queries (they receive thousands a year), request manuscripts, read them, and decide if they want to represent your work. Then they’ll often ask you for revisions that they think will improve your work...and then they submit your work to publishers they think would be a good match...and then you’ll wait some more, and quite likely the news won’t be positive. If it is, then there’s more waiting—a YA novel usually takes 18 months to 2 years from the date it’s sold to the day it’s released. Picture books can take years longer than that, because they depend on the illustrator’s schedule. If you want to be a writer or an illustrator, you have to cultivate patience...a lot of patience. The good news is that while you wait, you can be working on your next story and improving your skills. Here are a few links on the process:
Do I need an agent? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=5589.0
Submitting picture books to agents https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=74790.0
A few helpful agent search links https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=30982.0
Researching agents https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=53529.0

I don't think I want to go that route. What else can I do?

Once upon a time, the above was the only way to go. Now, though, there are more options that can be considered, including self-publishing, subsidy (also known as vanity) publishing, and hybrid publishing (sometimes called co-publishing).

Self-publishing means that you are not only the author, but the publisher of your book. It means that you take care of (or hire someone else to do) everything involved in the publication of your book--having it edited, formatted, a cover created, uploading to online distributors for an e-book version, formatting a print version/working with a print vendor, and marketing. It can be a lot of work, and cost a good chunk of money to do it right, but some authors prefer this route: they like the idea of starting their own business and having complete creative control of all aspects of their book. Here are a few links that might be of interest:
Self-publishing: where to start? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=56848.0
Self-publishing services  https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=67378.0 [
Self-publish, get an agent, both? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=70727.0
Self-publishing companies https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=72239.0

Subsidy/vanity publishing means that you pay a company to perform all of the publishing steps outlined above (rather than doing them yourself). Sometimes you choose among several "packages" that include different levels of service for set prices. Subsidy and vanity publishing differ from both commercial and self-publishing in that the publishers' target market is not the reading public, but aspiring authors. These companies make their money from you, not your readers, and do not have a vested interest in whether your book sells. They will usually accept the work of any author who is willing to pay for their services, regardless of the manuscript's quality.

Hybrid/co-publishing is a relatively new development and these publishers vary in what they offer and how they operate. They may be nothing more than subsidy/vanity publishing under a different name, or they may follow some of the practices of traditional publishers, such as manuscript selectivity or the payment of royalties. In any case, with this model you will still be paying fees to get published. Here are two discussions of hybrid/co-publishers:
Researching and Querying Editors https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=86200
and a blog post by former Writers Digest editor Jane Friedman https://www.janefriedman.com/what-is-a-hybrid-publisher

The quality of subsidy/vanity/hybrid services, and of your finished book, can range from good to poor, so before deciding to work with such a company it's wise to look at the physical and/or digital books they put out so that you know what yours would look like. (Do the same with any printer you consider using if you are self-publishing, or with small or niche traditional presses.) Here are some relevant threads:
What would you have done? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=67529.0
First book just published by small company; how to get a bigger company to help? https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?topic=74754.0

We hope you find this overview of the publishing industry helpful. In general, your best strategy is to decide which path fits your goals and pursue that path, even if it seems longer than others (rather than, say, thinking that "starting small" will give you a leg up toward traditional publishing, which it usually will not). Happy writing and illustrating, and good luck.  :goodluck
#1 - August 01, 2019, 08:00 AM

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